Lean Times

“Other than if you put a ruler on the paper and measure it, I’m kind of hoping it will not be that noticeable,” said Tom Bodkin, design director for The New York Times. On the morning of Monday, August 6, the Times was scheduled to crop an inch an a half from the newspaper's width. The new Times will now be 12 inches wide, which newspaper officials have said is the "industry standard" for American broadsheets.

Cutting the "trim size," as the industry calls it, has been an increasingly frequent measure among broadsheets to reduce costs associated with printing, and sometimes, as with The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, is taken as an opportunity to roll out a redesign of the front page.

The Times does plan to redesign, but is introducing the trimmer silhouette first. Indeed, official Times responses have significantly downplayed the size change.

Back in May, executive editor Bill Keller told newsroom staffers, during a Q&A session, that it was the Times' “inclination [to] absorb the change without a big amount of fanfare.”

“It's true, we are reducing the width of the paper by an inch and a half,” Mr. Bodkin said. “But I would not characterize that as a ‘redesign.’”

When the Journal slimmed down, the move was more extreme: the newspaper had to find a way to cut three inches from the sides of the page. One column was chopped out to make room for the rest; but what was touted widely as a redesign, complete with readers' guides and articles about the design process, resulted in something that looked much like the original.

“I think they’re trying to make it seem like a routine thing,” said a Times staffer.

Mr. Keller has said that while the overall reduction in space per page was about 11 percent, the loss to the size of the news report was being mitigated by adding more pages to the paper, recouping about 6 percent of the loss of space.

One place where the change will be noticeable will be in the editorial pages.

“We are losing, to our great regret, a whole lot of letters space,” said Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor. He added that Times columnists (and the public editor) will not lose words, but Op Ed's and art will have to be trimmed down a bit. Mr. Rosenthal said that his section would publish a note to readers on Monday regarding the change, and that more letters—or in some cases longer responses—will run exclusively online.

But "letters and outside op-ed pieces are critical to our opinion pages," he added, "[and] it’s not enough to tell our readers to go online.”

There will be some visible changes in a few days, he said, including “two newly designed pages” with crisper headlines, and a slightly different layout. Also, there will now be five wider columns, rather than the current six—a departure from the news side.

How have other editors dealt with the changes?

“We had lots of conversations,” Mr. Bodkin said. “You just count the words. There will be fewer words. We need to deal with that. One way is to edit a little more tightly.”

The issue of tighter editing has come down from the top of the masthead, in recent months.

“For editors, the main change will be fewer words per column and slightly tight one-column headlines are tighter,” read an internal Times memo from June. “A dress page column now with headline and blurb might be 720 words; without a jump, the equivalent column will be about 50-60 words shorter. While Bill Keller has been asking overall for shorter stories, the start of the narrow-measure paper will reduce specific news holes.”

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